A Moving Image of Elliot Goldenthal
FRANK J. OTERI: Now, something interesting you said about heroism wanting and need to have the big orchestra. Miklós Rózsa is a composer who’s music I’ve studied for years, both the film music and the concert hall music. One of the things he said in his autobiography is that when he was working on a score that was set in a specific period, he would go immerse himself in that period. Whether it was ancient Rome or, for example, he did this movie about Sherlock Holmes and immersed himself in Victorian-era stuff. Yet you hear the scores he wrote and they sound nothing like the music of those times. I know that you did the score of Michael Collins, which is a really great film about a historic figure. How much turn of the century Irish music figured in that for you? What’s your pre-composing process when you get the storyline?
ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: In terms of Michael Collins, I met with Neil many times in Dublin before hand. After reading the script, I thought the challenge for me was that there was not a big female presence in the film. Ireland does have a big female presence. I thought of Bernadette Devlin and other people who were very, very important in Irish cause. I asked him if he’d let me record female chorus singing in the Irish language, in Gaelic. He said yes, it would be great to sing in Irish. I then thought of chorus and Sinéad O’Connor—she’s a compelling singer in that style—and orchestra. I said we’d take certain Irish instruments but not use them in an Irish way. I used uilleann pipes for example. I had these tone-rows that the musician was playing in different metronomic speeds. It was recorded at different speeds and manipulated. It’s almost closer to a late ’60s John Coltrane solo than Irish reels and jigs. That with orchestral punctuation was something that was preconceived. There was one tune in there, a waltz, that I thought was very proper and Edwardian; like the way the love story was set and the way costumes looked. Other than that, even in Michael Collins, there was some experimentation.
ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: It’s interesting where your composition ideas come from. There’s a print of a production that was done of Titus in Shakespeare‘s time. It shows people in Roman togas and Elizabethan costumes. That gave me, and also the director, the knowledge and license that even Shakespeare in Elizabethan times wasn’t going for a pure Roman idiom. Another thing is when I was in Rome looking for the locations, standing in front of the Colosseum, there were these two Roman guys dressed in red Roman outfits to have their pictures taken with tourists. They had a boom box underneath paying Elvis. Then you’d hear Fiats go by with rap music. At the same time you’d see a window open, and Puccini’s music was playing in there. You get the point that Rome today is probably exactly the way Rome always was, which was a collision of many cultures, a citadel of anachronisms. It’s possible to exist totally and consistently within an anachronistic world. That gave me the freedom but lead to certain disciplinary choices in the movie. For example, you have three generations. Titus’s music was mainly orchestral. He’s sort of the patriarch, a serious general—either percussive or orchestral. The music of Saturninus, a generation younger—it kind of felt like in the staging almost 1930s fascist— the music was also big band, twisted big band— very, very brassy, jazzy. The younger, younger generation, the two boys Chiron and Bassianus, their music felt like post-skinhead punk music. That felt very comfortable for them. The one consistent thing was to find what in practically every character is the great leveler. What we’ve found is almost all the principal characters found themselves in the position where they were begging for their lives or their son’s lives or whatever, on their knees, begging. Publius did it. Tamora did it. Aaron did it and on and on. I found a simple two-part contrapuntal melody that I call the compassion theme that works for each character when they’re in that similar situation. That binds everything.
FRANK J. OTERI: What is that two-part melody?
ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: (sings part of the melody) It’s very chromatic. (sings the another part of the melody) It’s played with solo cello and solo viola. And the orchestra plays it. That happens consistently in the movie.
FRANK J. OTERI: Another question in terms of pre-composition things that go into something: we talked a little bit about the score to Alien 3. Clearly this was the third part in a series of films that involved other directors and other composers. I think Jerry Goldsmith did the score for the first of the Alien movies. You worked on several of the Batman films. Certainly Batman has a whole legacy going back even before the recent films. There are all kinds of people who did Batman stuff. In the first of the new batch of movies, if memory serves, there were a bunch of songs by Prince. The question becomes, how much does the earlier music that gets done for films that are sequels figure in you head when you’re going in to do the score?
ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: Sometimes there are non-musical things that trigger off a score. In terms of Alien 3, it’s a sense of isolation, being a zillion miles away in space somewhere in some prison. You want to create that sense of isolation, that sense of despair, that nauseating feeling that you’re not going to come out of it alive. Certainly the earlier composers might have responded to those events. The second Aliens movie, I believe, James Horner did. It was very action motivated and so he responded to that. Each composer, of course, on the level of Goldsmith or Horner and myself, we respond to the drama and the action. We’re responding to what we see. We’re not responding necessarily to what those capable composers did before. When Elfman did his great work on the other Batmans, I’m not responding to his work so much. I’m responding to what Joel Schumacher, the director, is bringing to the production. It had a sense of big heroic quality. It also had a zany quality that Jim Carrey brought to it that was not in the early movies. It had more of a flip, comic kind of attitude. So a composer responds to it. I don’t necessarily go back and listen to— as a matter of fact I try to avoid listening to it. I think what the audience wants is a fresh experience. Quite often people asked me about the Batman theme. Elfman wrote one. I wrote one. Really the one everyone knows is [sings a portion of the original TV theme] You know the TV one. We all know that.